In 2010 How to Train Your Dragon used the warmest of fable tropes — human boy and his loyal animal companion — to illustrate how a tribe of blockheaded Norsemen could learn to get along with their flame-spraying reptile brethren. The sequel picks up five years later in the island world of Berk, where everything is copacetic between Hiccup (the eternally pubescent voice of Jay Baruchel); his dad, Stoick (the eternally grunting voice of Gerard Butler); and his dragon pal, Toothless. But trouble awaits. And lots of it. While the original movie benefited from narrative simplicity and an admirable lack of villains, this one paints the screen with too many characters and frequent diversions from the main story, but nevertheless serves up a bountiful and sugary feast for the 3-D-bespectacled eyes.
Dragon 2 introduces Hiccup’s earthy mother, Valka (Cate Blanchett), who reemerges after having left her family years ago in favor of peaceful repose among the flying lizards. She redeems herself by singing a lovely Celtic duet with Stoick, thereby ducking the matter of parental abandonment, and joins the gang to defeat Draco Bludvist (Djimon Hounsou), whose dragon-skin cape and paralyzed snarl of a mouth are the vision of banal cartoon evil. Indeed, the moral takeaway is cut-and-dried this time. As one character spells it out, ”Good dragons under the control of bad people do bad things.”
Still, the movie’s visual scope is magnificent, both in the photorealistic rendering of fire, water, and translucent green ice (maestro cinematographer Roger Deakins once again served as a consultant) and in the subtle, moving character design of Toothless, a descendant of Hayao Miyazaki’s beloved Totoro mixed with a big black cat. Composer John Powell’s offbeat score is spiked with a zesty new song by erstwhile Sigur Rós frontman Jónsi, lending throttle to a kinetic early scene set high in the sky. The flight path needs straightening, but this is still a franchise that knows how to fly. B